Stephen S. Sternberg, MD, Emeritus Attending Pathologist and Member at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), is the 2011 recipient of the USCAP Distinguished Pathologist Award.
Dr. Sternberg has been closely identified with MSKCC throughout his career, entering its Department of Pathology in 1949 as a National Cancer Institute Fellow after taking his M.D. from The New York University School of Medicine (he is a native of Queens) and spending two years as a Resident in Pathology at The Tulane Medical School branch of Charity Hospital in New Orleans. He joined the attending staff in 1951 and for nearly 50 years served the patients of MSKCC as a surgical pathologist. For 18 of those years, he was Chief of the Autopsy Service. A measure of the esteem in which Dr. Sternberg was held by his distinguished colleagues at MSKCC can be taken from his election . as a pathologist, no less . to the presidencies of the Medical Board and General Staff of that august institution.
Readers of this encomium would no doubt think "editor" first if asked to delineate Dr. Sternberg's accomplishments; he certainly achieved international renown through his efforts in the area of medical publishing (more on that later). Some might also be cognizant of Dr. Sternberg's special interest and acknowledged expertise in colorectal neoplasia, particularly the problems of polyp assessment. The most seasoned . read oldest or least historically challenged . might even recall his single-author, seminal contribution on the pathology and clinical biology of the juvenile nasopharyngeal angiofibroma. It would, however, come as a surprise to nearly all that Steve Sternberg's primary focus was, for years, experimental and that a majority of his (150+) publications concerned the toxicity of antineoplastic agents as observed in laboratory animals. The description by Drs. Sternberg, Fred Philips and colleagues in 1961 of cyclophosphamide-induced hemorrhagic cystitis in animals and their demonstration that this potentially fatal disorder could be prevented by high fluid intake serves as but a single example of these significant "translational" studies. To this can be added quite a number of studies detailing the carcinogenic potential of various compounds. These investigations established Dr. Sternberg as a cancer biologist, earned him a Professorship of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics from Cornell University, and paved the way for an engagement in broad healthcare issues. In the course of his productive academic career, he has served as an invited Advisory Member or Consultant to the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, The Food and Drug Administration, The National Institutes of Health, The Environmental Protection Agency, The World Health Organization Collaborating Center for Prevention of Colorectal Cancer, The New York Science Policy Association, The American Council on Health and Science, The National Science Foundation, The Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation and The Dutch Cancer Society.
In 1976, Dr. Sternberg undertook the founding editorship of The American Journal of Surgical Pathology. He remained Editor-in-Chief for 24 years. Here his practical instincts and pride in the tradecraft of morphology came to the fore. In the Apologia that prefaced the first issue of the Journal (1977), he wrote: "The modern surgical pathologist plays a vital role in clinical practice, not only in terms of diagnosis, but also in treatment and prognosis....The literature of surgical pathology is now dispersed in a number of excellent specialty journals . but intermixed with basic research, purely clinical articles or with clinical laboratory studies. Our goal is to establish a journal devoted exclusively to surgical pathology and directed to the practicing surgical pathologist." The rest, as they say, is history. There can be no gainsaying the suggestion that the Journal . which came to be regarded as required reading by many trainees and practitioners owing to its utilitarian bent and accent on observations both novel and biologically relevant . raised the collective game of its devotees. Dr. Sternberg went on to launch, as Editor, the popular Diagnostic Surgical Pathology and Histology for Pathologists. The latter, a volume that many of us have found indispensable, took First Place in the Physicians Category of The American Medical Writers Association when it appeared in 1992. Like the Journal, these volumes have contributed greatly to the ongoing education of pathologists everywhere.
Colleagues and friends of Stephen Sternberg know him as a man of irrepressible humor, as an acute observer of the human condition, as a mordant satirist of all that is affected, as a Martini lover (Tanqueray — straight up with a twist), dog fancier and gardener. The practice of pathology is much the better for his contributions, as are those of us privileged to have worked with him.